“Better Together”: SMC and Los Angeles AFB celebrates Diversity Day

  • Published
  • By James Spellman, Jr. and Krista Knaus
  • SMC Public Affairs

People from various ethnicities and races, representing cultural, educational and geographical heritages, religious faiths and socioeconomic or political backgrounds came together in unity Aug. 16 to celebrate their diversity.

The courtyard of the Space and Missile Systems Center's Schriever Space Complex took on the look of a mini United Nations as Los Angeles Air Force Base's Diversity Day brought together active-duty service members, civilians and family members to experience slices of culture under the theme of “Better Together.”

 “As far back as 1848, economist John Stuart Mill said diversity is the primary source of progress. That when we’re exposed to people from different countries and cultural backgrounds, it serves as a source of intellectual and moral growth. And here we are in the 21st century. We’re still having a heavy emphasis on highlighting the benefits of diversity inclusion, with the irony that our society’s becoming more diverse than in previous decades,” said keynote speaker, Dr. Carrie Baker, diversity chief for Air Force Space Command.

“Let us not forget we are the biggest resource in Space Command to meet tomorrow’s challenges. With external adversaries impacting how we do business, we have no choice but to do things differently to be successful,” said Baker. “So we must continue to evolve how we leverage the diverse talent that we have, and deliberately foster an inclusive environment to ensure that we effectively stay competitive, and have a long presence in space.”

Community and service organizations operating under the umbrella of the Aerospace Diversity Action Committee and Affinity Groups included The Aerospace Corporation, African American Cultural Alliance, America’s Christian Heritage, American Federation of Government Employees, Airman and Family Readiness Center, Army and Air Force Exchange Services, Asian Pacific Islander Heritage, Chaplain/Lay Organizations, Equal Opportunity, Hispanic Heritage Committee, Mental Health, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, SMC University and SMC's Opportunities for Women in Leadership and Service.

“A part of Diversity Day and part of the diversity message that we’re trying to put out is that everybody, no matter what your abilities are, you have worth and dignity, and that inclusion is important to diversity and to the mission of the Air Force and the community that we live in,” said Bryan Blue, 61st Air Base Group community support coordinator, who introduced the next special guest speaker: Katherine “Kat” Portillo, a former deputy branch chief of SMC’s Space Superiority Directorate who won an International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness pro card in June 2012.

Tragically, a turn of events from a dramatic rollover accident on the 405 freeway in December 2015 rendered Portillo a quadriplegic, sustaining severe injuries to her spinal cord, resulting in her being paralyzed from her shoulders down. Her husband, Pavel Ythjall, sustained injuries to his neck and skull, resulting in wearing a "halo" for two months. Portillo spent almost a month in intensive care, and three more months in rehabilitation. Through her determined fighting spirit, she regained the ability to breathe and eat on her own and now advocates for herself and others with disabilities.

“It feels like two decades since I was disabled, but it’s really only been two and a half years since I was last walking through this atrium like you guys are,” said Portillo. “So it begs the question, have you thought about what would be if you, or a family members of yours, should you become severely disabled, are you doing what it takes right now to make those special connections with the people around you, so that they will be there for you in the end, when you really need them? It is some questions to consider, and start making a difference about it now.”

Portillo outlined five principles and techniques on how to get closer to people, and break down cultural barriers.

“Number one: Take interest in other people’s interests. It’s easy to ask a co-worker, ‘How was your weekend? How was your football game?’ Ask them, ‘How is your wife?’ If you know they have kids, ask them how are their kids?  Number two: Smile. There’s nothing more welcoming, and letting people know you’re accepted, than a smile.”

The third principle Portillo emphasized is to listen more frequently. “All people want is to be heard, and cared for, and listened to.”      

            For her fourth principle, “Rain with Names,” Portillo drew upon her prior enlisted service experience. “A sure way we knew we had a great commander was if he knew our name, if he knew our spouses’ name, and if he knew our children’s name,” said Portillo. “Your name, in addition to life, is the single most important name in this world. Addressing someone by their name makes the contact more important to them, and they will remember you for knowing their name.”

            The fifth and final principle is to leave others in a better place. “We’ve got to do small acts of services, so that we move from the manipulative mindset to a more meaningful interaction,” said Portillo.

 Officially known as World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, the annual event raises awareness of the wealth of world cultures and the opportunities that cultural diversity can bring to societies. Through open discussion with a remarkable guest speaker, food and side dishes from around the world and cultural booths staffed by volunteers representing different cultural groups and organizations within SMC helped participants better appreciate the success of today's Air Force and other branches of military service through the diversity of its members.